Doing what I refer to as contract design work at first seems to be the same as the freelance design work I spoke of last week: you do design for a client and they pay you. But you’re not actually on salary. In those respects, I understand grouping contracting and freelancing together, but other than that, contracting seems to be a whole different job, although in my case and many others, it has been done at the same time as the freelance work we all speak so highly of.

The main difference to me is that you’re either doing overflow work for a creative shop and/or ad agency, or working directly with a client on random jobs that the majority of are too small to outsource to an agency, and would be considered ideal for an in-house designer if they had one (or if it was a high enough priority). As before, these things I learned are listed in no particular order:

1. You Know What’s Right
If you’re doing overflow work for an another design shop or an ad agency, you know what’s ethical. You also know what will get you on their bad side. Do the right thing. You shouldn’t put the work on your website unless they know about it – it’s their client and project, not yours. Putting it in your portfolio when trying to get a job and being honest about the parts you did on it is usually fine. If you have an actual contract you expect them to follow (like on pay and hours) you should follow the small print they put in there. In the long run, you’ll be much better off.

2. You Are Temporary
It’s called overflow work for a reason. Eventually it will either go away, or become enough that they hire someone full-time to do the job. I’ve been in a few spots where I was offered a job this way (always flattering even when you have to decline), and it means you either take the job or you lose the work completely. This is something you have to be ready for, and it’s a business, so don’t be upset when this happens. If they get busy again, you will be on the list to call. I have found that working as a ‘temporary employee’ is a great way to learn different philosophies on dealing with clients, how to pitch work, and how to build files. These are invaluable things if you ever go out on your own.

3. You Don’t Have to Work in Their Office
It’s been a few years since I looked into the details, but in order to not be considered an employee of a company by the IRS, and to be a true contractor, a few things need to be followed that include not requiring you have set hours, not requiring a specific location you need to work at, and not requiring that they specify the exact way you complete the work (i.e. what software to use). It may be of your benefit to work on-site regardless, as it keeps you in their mind for those little jobs when they are trying to figure out who to hand it off to.

4. Don’t Be Offended
This work isn’t for everyone. You have to understand that even though you don’t work there, the work represents the agency it’s done for, and they have the right to show (or not show) what they feel is best. Depending on your availability, and the availability of their own staff, you may just be making minor type revisions on work that is already complete. You may also end up coming up with a whole new campaign for an initial pitch, and someone else may make all of the changes. If you’re the type to be upset when someone else alters your work or finishes the project without your input, straight freelance may be the better option. The advantage is the opportunity for a single freelancer to work on larger projects and learn what it’s like to work with a team.

5. Take Less Money
Contract work will sometimes pay less than freelance work either because there is now a middleman in there taking a cut from the client (it is their client), or it’s direct overflow work from an in-house department and probably not work deemed worthy of full agency rates. There are things that can be offered in these cases that make it worthwhile to take a smaller hourly rate on your end: the fact that there is much less time selling to new clients on each project (consider it like paying a salesperson a commission), a guaranteed amount of hours, and a written contract guaranteeing such hours (these usually come with a 30 day cancellation option for either party).